viernes, 31 de enero de 2014

Social Entrepreneurship

One of the best parts of being the U.S. Ambassador to Nicaragua is the ability to shine a spotlight on the positive changes that are happening here.

It is great to see Nicaragua as a leader in promoting social entrepreneurship that serves as a model for the entire region. In 2011, Agora hosted nine entrepreneurs from Central America, in 2012 it extended its programs into Mexico, and last year it expanded to 13 countries throughout Latin America.  And it keeps growing. 

Tonight we have entrepreneurs from all over Latin America who are finishing Agora Partnerships’ Accelerator program and are eager to return home not only to make their businesses more successful - but to improve social conditions in the process.   Thanks to Agora, these entrepreneurs have spent the week in Nicaragua connecting with mentors, getting technical assistance, and meeting potential investors. This entrepreneurs have businesses that are addressing environmental problems, encouraging greater participation by marginalized groups, and transforming their communities through innovative businesses that incorporate social change as part of their business plan.

I truly believe that entrepreneurship is a way to bring prosperity to many parts of the world.  But entrepreneurs need our support.  Entrepreneurs need effective laws in place to ensure they are competing on a level playing field.  They need mentors and networks that can help them shape and improve their ideas.  They need access to credit and the chance to attract investors.  In order to tackle those challenges government, the international community and the private sector need to work together to ensure that entrepreneurs are given the chance to compete, to grow their businesses, and to enable the benefits of social entrepreneurship to spread throughout the communities in which they invest.   

Part of our task is spreading the message that although Nicaragua may seem an unlikely place, a new type of business culture is growing here.  It’s a business culture that is more inclusive, more innovative, and deserves our attention.   Learning about the backgrounds of this entrepreneurs and the Agora team, you see a pattern emerge.  Bright, innovative people, often with private sector experience who were driven to create businesses that do more than turn a profit.  They’ve adapted the traditional business model to include social responsibility and environmental sustainability as core business principals, and are improving lives every day as result.  You’ll hear them speak of their commitments to improving Latin America and I encourage you to get to know them.

I ask of you to do your part to support the entrepreneurs in your communities and to draw attention to the good work they are doing.  Together we can create the conditions for greater economic prosperity, and send a message to the world that Central America is part of the social entrepreneurship vanguard.

martes, 10 de diciembre de 2013

Every Day is Human Rights Day

On December 10 we mark the vote in the United Nations to ratify the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – the historical moment affirmed that all people regardless of the nation where they live are entitled to the same basic human rights. To date, more than 150 countries, including Nicaragua, have ratified this act. Throughout my diplomatic career, I have thought that I have had no more important task than to defend the fundamental human rights and basic dignity of all people.

I am also aware that the protection and advancement of human rights needs more than the signature on a declaration, constitutional guarantees and the existence of good laws on the books. It depends on citizen participation and the willingness of people to defend the poor, the vulnerable and the marginalized against the arrogance of power.

One of the most visible ways citizens participate in governing their countries is through an active civil society. I have been very impressed by the fact that in every corner of Nicaragua, I have met people who give their time and talent to expanding educational opportunities, assisting people living with HIV and AIDS, volunteering as firefighters, improving maternal and child health, diverting young people from dangerous lifestyles, defending the rights of minorities and indigenous people, helping the disabled to reach their potential, combating gender violence and trafficking in persons, exposing corruption and arguing passionately for the freedom of expression. This list could be extended to include many more countless ways civil society is working to strengthen their communities. I am proud of the record of the United States Embassy to support these efforts.

However, I am concerned by the shrinking operational space and increasing challenges many civil society organizations and activists face in Nicaragua and worldwide.    We need to ensure these voices can be heard in every country.  Independent civil society organizations deserve both the full support of the citizenry, and the cooperation of governments.

This Human Rights Day, let’s remember that government should rest in the hands of the people.   We have seen monumental figures like Nelson Mandela who have pushed societies to advance in this realm, but protecting fundamental rights needs to be nourished by daily efforts, big and small, by people from all walks of life. Let us never forget that an injustice to any person, diminishes justice for all.

viernes, 22 de noviembre de 2013

National Entrepreneurs’ Day

President Obama has declared November 22 to be National Entrepreneurs’ Day, a day to commemorate the strongly positive impact that entrepreneurs have had on the growth of the American economy. The word “entrepreneur” brings to mind the names of independent individuals who, starting with little more than a good idea, build businesses large and small that help keep the United States prosperous and at the vanguard of innovation. Yet if we look carefully at the careers of successful entrepreneurs, we often find that they were able to take advantage of government programs and an enabling business environment to bring their good ideas to fruition.

For this reason, the Obama Administration has launched several initiatives that can give entrepreneurs a boost. Last year’s Jumpstart Our Business Startups (JOBS) Act made changes to our security laws that will make it easier for entrepreneurs to use crowdfunding websites to help grow their businesses. The White House Startup America initiative seeks to unlock access to capital, connect mentors and education to entrepreneurs, reduce barriers and make government work for entrepreneurs, accelerate innovation from “lab to market” for breakthrough technologies, and unleash market opportunities in industries like healthcare, clean energy, and education. The President also signed an Executive Order that makes it easier for entrepreneurs to gain access to government-held data that can help them develop new products and services.

At Embassy Managua we are doing our part to promote and support entrepreneurship here in Nicaragua. This week we are hosting a seminar for 50 young Nicaraguan business leaders to help them develop some of the skills they will need to succeed in the business world. English language students in our Embassy-sponsored ACCESS program participated in StartUp Weekend, and one of them won third prize for designing a website to sell Nicaraguan art in the United States. Our Peace Corps volunteers have helped design and teach an entrepreneurship course to raise awareness of entrepreneurship in Nicaragua, which has been added to the national secondary school curriculum, organized an entrepreneurship congress, and a Nicaragua-wide business competition.

Governments in developing countries like Nicaragua must help pave the way for entrepreneurs. The recent World Bank study Doing Business 2014 pointed that in too many countries the amount of time it takes to obtain the necessary approvals to start a business can be a month or more. Obtaining construction permits where needed takes up to a year, ; registering a property can consume many more weeks, as can obtaining electric service. These delays make it very expensive to start a business , and discourage many would-be entrepreneurs. In such countries, the government and the business community should work together to reduce this red tape while maintaining appropriate regulatory oversight.

So while entrepreneurs are the sparks that ignite successful businesses, we all have a role to play in helping ensure that these sparks turn into flames. As President Obama said in his proclamation declaring November to be National Entrepreneurship Month, “Let us come together and help aspiring entrepreneurs take a chance on themselves and their visions for a brighter future”.

viernes, 8 de noviembre de 2013

Veterans Day

Every year on November 11, the United States recognizes the contributions and sacrifices that our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines continue to make in distant lands away from family and friends.  I personally served side-by-side with many of these men and women during my time in Iraq, and I know firsthand the sacrifices they continually make in service to our country.

U.S. Veteran’s Day coincides with the holidays of Armistice Day and Remembrance Day in many countries around the world.  This date marks the anniversary of the end of World War I.   At 11 am on 11 November 1918 – "the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month" – a ceasefire came into effect ending what was at the time called “The Great War.”  November 11 is a time when much of the world remembers those who have sacrificed their lives for their country.

In the United States, Veteran’s Day is a day for us to thank those who have served and continue to serve our country and a day for us to remember those who have given the ultimate sacrifice in the name of liberty.  Every year on November 11, the President of the United States lays a wreath at the “Tomb of the Unknown Soldier” at Arlington National Cemetery.  This monument is dedicated to the services of unidentified soldiers killed in wars and also to the common memories of all soldiers killed in any war.

As I reflect back this Veteran’s Day, I cannot help but think of my time in Iraq.  During my service there I worked with Navy Captain (retired) Stephen Farley.  Captain Farley came from a family that valued military service -- a member of the Farley family had served in the U.S. military since the time of the revolutionary war.  Captain Farley was first assigned to Iraq in his capacity as a Navy Captain.  When he left Iraq and retired from the Navy, he felt there was still more that he could do to help the Iraqi people with their reconstruction efforts so he immediately applied to serve as a Senior Governance Specialist and returned to Iraq in a civilian capacity less than six weeks after his departure and subsequent retirement. Captain Farley was well respected by all of his colleagues.  He worked tirelessly with the Iraqi people to assist them in making their country better for all.  In June of 2008 while at a meeting in a municipal building in Sadr City, Captain Farley, along with three other dedicated Americans, was killed when a bomb ripped through the building.  He gave the ultimate sacrifice not only for his country, but for the people of Iraq – people who were not so different from any of us who wanted a better life and future for themselves and their families. 

Veteran’s Day gives us all the opportunity to reflect on the benefits of democracy and its costs.  Democracy, unfortunately, has never been free, and all of us have a role and responsibility to protect the freedoms that veterans fought so hard to preserve.

viernes, 20 de septiembre de 2013

International Coastal Cleanup Day

Photo courtesy of NOAA Marine Debris Program
During the rainy seasons in practically every country with a coastline, it is especially easy to see trash that was tossed casually into public places, ripped out of garbage bags by street dogs, or blown by the wind out of vehicles. But that garbage is there year round, and almost all of it makes its way to the rivers, lakes, and ocean. Plastic, which does not decompose quickly, makes up most of the trash, and it remains in the environment for perhaps hundreds of years. Fishermen find plastic in the guts of fish, scientists find bird carcasses almost stuffed with plastic, and animals like seals and sea turtles can drown or starve when they get wrapped up in lost fishing line.

In an effort to spur people to see the effects of what is called “marine debris” in person, the Ocean Conservancy, an NGO in the U.S., organizes an annual International Coastal Cleanup in partnership with country coordinators.

Last year on a Saturday morning in September, over 5,000 people in Nicaragua cleaned up over 115,000 pounds of garbage from beaches, riverbanks, and ocean floor. All over the world, over half a million people in 97 countries cleaned up 10 million pounds of trash from the waterways they care about. This international activity has taken place for 26 years, and the U.S. Embassy community is proud to join with Paso Pacifico and Cultura Quilombo this year in organizing a cleanup in the community of Casares this Saturday. We will post before and after pictures and share with you how much garbage we pick up off the beach.

In addition, this year, along with other U.S. embassies around the world, we are sponsoring an art challenge.  We are asking volunteers who participate in the clean-up effort  to create artwork out of some of the trash they pick up. If you join us this weekend at Casares or want to head out on your own in the next couple weeks to clean up trash, please join in the art challenge! Photos of your artwork can be posted to

Along with our partners, Cultura Quilombo and Paso Pacifico, the Embassy will host Nicaragua marine debris art competition with categories for students, student groups, and adults. More details about the competition will be posted in the coming days on our partners’ websites and on the U.S. Embassy Facebook page.

We hope to see you out on the beaches, cleaning up trash this Saturday. We look forward to seeing the art you create out of the trash you remove. And we dream of the day when the ICC is no longer needed, when our waterways and oceans are clean and healthy.

Cultura Quilombo
Paso Pacifico

lunes, 12 de agosto de 2013

International Youth Day

photo courtesy of El Nuevo Diario
read the article: Deporte y diversión entre la selva nicaragüense
Every time I open a newspaper, every time I turn on the television, whenever my Twitter account lights up, I see youth full of energy, ideas and enthusiasm.  Youth make up over 70% of the Nicaraguan population, the majority, millions of voices, a democratic force.  On this year’s International Youth Day, my hat is off to the Nicaraguan youth in salute.

In fact, it seems that service is a lesson that Nicaragua’s youth have learned at an early age.  If you live in Managua, the most recent campaign of Techo Por Mi Pais, Manos a La Obra! to raise funds and awareness for their projects, certainly must have grabbed your attention.  I am sure you also shared in my admiration of youth’s   ability to organize, to raise funds effectively, and to produce results. 

Most recently, I have admired the insight and courage of the young people who joined in the fight for pensioner’s rights, and society is taking notice of youth’s abilities to not just raise their voices, but also to organize, and channel energy toward promoting constructive change.  Just reviewing the hashtag trails over Twitter validates youth’s efforts and growing influence. 

If you care about current issues facing Nicaraguan youth, perhaps you have seen Cindy Regidor’s work to publicize bullying incidents and help to stop them.  If you haven’t, I’d recommend you Google her and take a look….  Or come to UNAN Managua August 20th to watch the premier of Alas Rotas, a film produced by youths who want to raise awareness about Trafficking in Persons. 

In accordance with Secretary Kerry’s Global Youth Initiative, many Embassy programs have been directed at engaging and empowering youth throughout Nicaragua.  Nearly 1000 young people have graduated or are enrolled in our English Access micro-scholarship programs; 1070 completed studies with our Scholarships for Education and Economic Development (SEED) or 1409 who have benefited from our Education for Success programs; 7000 whose businesses flourished thanks to our Enterprise and Employment program. Every year , we also send dozens of Nicaraguans to the United States to study and participate in exchange programs such as Jóvenes Embajadores and Fulbright; and my advisory council, the Consejo Consultivo de Jóvenes continues to impress me with their creativity and spirit of service to their country.

Yesterday, I attended a wonderful presentation at El Colegio Modesto Bejarano, sponsored by the organization Podcasts for Peace and the community Acahualinca.  Though the youths I saw there come from very humble circumstances, they showed the open minds, fresh ideas and potential to make a difference in their community as I have seen wherever I’ve gone in Nicaragua.

miércoles, 26 de junio de 2013

Gay Pride Month

"We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths — that all of us are created equal — is the star that guides us still, just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall, just as it guided all those men and hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone, to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth." 

President Barack Obama, Second Inaugural Address, January 21, 2013

This month, more than 150 cities worldwide will host parades, film festivals, beauty pageants, speaker series, and other cultural events in celebration of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Pride. In Nicaragua, where the first Gay Pride celebration took place in 1991, the U.S. Embassy will be sponsoring a festival to showcase a series of films related to LGBT issues, and local LGBT organizations are planning a parade on June 28 (?). Many people are familiar with the rainbow flags, colorful floats, and street parties often associated with gay pride events. But why the month of June? And what are we celebrating, anyway? To answer that, a brief review of American history.

By the late 1960s, the civil rights and women’s liberation movements in the United States were well underway, but the same could not be said for LGBT rights. Most states still had anti-sodomy laws on the books, homosexuality was considered a psychological disorder, and there were no legal protections for LGBT individuals against discrimination in housing or in the workplace. Raids of private gay establishments and police harassment of LGBT individuals were common, but on June 28, 1969, the arrests of employees of the Stonewall Inn, a well-known gay bar in Greenwich Village in Manhattan, sparked a series of riots by the local gay community that continued for six days.

Though not the first time the LGBT community in the U.S. had stood up to police harassment and brutality, the Stonewall riots, as the historic event came to be called, is largely regarded as a watershed moment in the LGBT rights movement both in the United States and internationally. The first Gay Pride march was held in New York City on the one-year anniversary of the Stonewall riots, and by 1972, pride events were taking place in cities around to world, both to commemorate Stonewall, as well as to celebrate the accomplishments of LGBT individuals and to demand equal rights.

The struggle for LGBT rights has come a long way since the Stonewall riots, both within the U.S. and internationally. In April, France became the 14th country to legalize same-sex marriage, and in May, Minnesota became the 12th U.S. state to do so. The U.S. Supreme Court just issued a ruling the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional.  But the hate crimes committed against LGBT individuals -- such as the three Nicaraguans killed this year on the basis of their sexual orientation and the young gay man shot and killed several blocks from Stonewall Inn just this past month -- show that we are not there yet.

Gay Pride is not just a celebration of the rights of LGBT individuals, but of human rights - the right to walk down the street and to express ourselves without fear, and the dignity and value inherent in all of us, regardless not only of ethnicity or religion, but also who we love. How will you celebrate this year?